Tech

Billionaires like Sam Bankman-Fried and Mark Zuckerberg should not be taken at their word. They are not friendly.

AT 1984 – the book, not the year, is the means by which the evil totalitarian regime “Big Brother” maintains its power, is something called “doublethink.” It is the practice of a tandem of conflicting beliefs: “war is peace”, “freedom is slavery”, “ignorance is strength”, “2 + 2 = 5”, to use examples from the book. It worked because when our minds – our sense of logic, our morality – are compromised, they are easier to control.

Given the events of the last few months, doublethink can also be interpreted to mean things like “the metaverse is the future”, “people will pay millions of dollars for shitty art”, or “this crypto billionaire is definitely acting in my best interest”. “. It’s a banal reference, but it seems to be the only one that makes sense. Somehow, somewhere along the way, the American public has been deceived into believing that all of this could be true, even though it really isn’t.

On November 11, FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, 30, resigned after his firm filed for bankruptcy. Prior to his explosion, Bankman-Fried (colloquially referred to as SBF) was considered a boy genius in the crypto world, not only because of his billionaire status, but also because he was widely regarded as “one of the good ones”, someone who advocated increased government regulation. cryptography and was a leader in the field of effective altruism. Effective Altruism (EA) is part philosophical movement, part subculture, but overall it aims to create evidence-based means that bring the greatest benefit to the most people. (Disclosure: In August of this year, the Bankman-Fride Family Charitable Foundation Building a Stronger Future awarded Vox Future Perfect a grant for a 2023 reporting project. This project is now on hold.)

Instead, Bankman-Fried did the opposite: he blew his savings over a million people as well as could have been scammed. Speaking to Vox’s Kelsey Piper, he essentially admitted that the benefactor image was just a sham (“fuck the regulators,” he wrote, and said he “should” be good at talking about ethics because of “this stupid game). we woke up the westerners by playing where we say all the right aphorisms and that’s why everyone likes us”).

In terms of corporate wrongdoing, the SBF disaster is arguably on par with Enron and Bernie Madoff. This was a dude who positioned himself as a benevolent billionaire and convinced others to invest their money in him simply because he was worth $26 billion (at the peak of his career). He has partnered with celebrities like Tom Brady and Larry David to make cryptocurrency — an extremely risky investment based on shaky technology — the only way forward. Both Brady and David, as well as several other famous people now accused in class action cheating investors amid the collapse of FTX.

But there have been other examples of technological doublethink in recent history. Over the past year, Mark Zuckerberg has fought so hard to popularize the “Metaverse” that he changed the name of one of the most powerful companies in the world to reflect his ambitions. However, his metaverse called Horizon ended up looking like a less fun version of The Sims, a game released in 2000 (but even the Sims were legs). The strategy at the time of publication had not paid off. The company lost $800 billion..

What’s ironic is that anyone with eyes and brains could just tell Zuckerberg that Horizon is terrible. Not only is it ugly and functionally useless, it’s also expensive (VR headsets cost at least hundreds of dollars). People, of course, told him that since the launch of the platform widely ridiculed in mass media as well as online Zuckerberg just didn’t listen.

There’s this thing about technology where entrepreneurs tell themselves that their job is to innovate. They are builders, they say, paving the way for the next generation of rednecks to follow, years later, into the future. But often they follow the money, where the godlike venture capitalists decide to open the faucet. They believe they can predict what will happen, simply because “that’s where the money is” and end up surprised when the money turns into something completely meaningless.

The most compelling argument I’ve ever heard about Web3 is, “Well, that’s what all the smart people work on.” Back in February, I attended a meeting of curious women in an expensive trendy hotel bar, where everyone was very cool and nice. I was most hooked when the organizer said into the microphone: “Whether we like it or not, this is happening.” The bottom line was that since all these financial brothers got rich off crypto and NFTs, maybe we could catch up with them.

What wasn’t said, but what I heard, and what I always heard when someone explained Web3 to me, was, “Yeah, we know this whole thing seems pretty damn stupid. We know that much of the NFT art sucks and the idea of ​​someone paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for it doesn’t make the slightest sense. We know that this whole system is basically a Ponzi scheme, that it’s bad for the environment, and that nobody has come up with a good use case for it. But that’s where the money is.”

I don’t think anyone who invested in cryptocurrencies was an idiot; in fact, I believed otherwise. After attending the meeting, I was convinced that enough people would buy into this kind of marketing out of fear and FOMO that in a few months I would be paying for my coffee in Ethereum. Of course, I couldn’t understand what was so useful about cryptography or DAO or anything, but these women seemed smart and normal, and people we earn a lot of money.

The problem is that engineers are pretty bad at teaching the fact that marketing is about more than TV commercials and pretty packaging. NFTs didn’t sell because of how cool they looked (which they weren’t). They were sold by rich dudes or supposedly rich dudes who positioned themselves as the only ones smart enough to know where the world was going. “You think it’s simply JPEG? they seemed to be asking. “Enjoy poverty.”

But any woman with a Facebook account could tell them that this is exactly the kind of strategy used by multi-level marketing companies selling protein shakes and leggings for a shilling. Every get-rich-quick scheme is an exercise in doublethink: “This may not make any of the logical sense you are used to, but look at my new car! You can have one too!”

Did anyone really think that a billionaire could be charitable? Has anyone thought that the future lies beyond the Horizon? Did people think that Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter would happen in a normal way? Probably. We lie to ourselves all the time. In a world where liberal arts colleges and liberal arts more and more demonized as “wakefulness factories,” it is the technologists who are made to appear rational. Those who criticize them end up appearing naive, or ignorant, or afraid of progress, so much so that sometimes we ourselves believe it instead of believing our eyes.

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